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In 2014, a limo carrying comedian Tracy Morgan was rear-ended by a Wal-Mart big rig being driven by a fatigued driver. The driver was 13.5 hours into a 14-hour shift, but reports say that he had been awake for more than 28 hours when the crash occurred. The fatigued truck driver was responsible for the crash that killed 62-year-old comedy writer James McNair and seriously injured Morgan—who was in a coma for two weeks after the crash and has no memory of the crash. According to Morgan’s attorney, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, had frequent nosebleeds and headaches. While Morgan made an amazing recovery, the life lost and serious injuries could’ve been prevented had the driver followed hours-of-service rules.
While Tracy Morgan’s crash is a high-profile example of the damage fatigued truck drivers can cause, this is not an isolated incident. In 2018, a total of 4,136 people died in large truck crashes. The majority of those victims were the occupants of other passenger vehicles.
Long-haul or commercial vehicle drivers often battle fatigue while behind the wheel. Many people view this as just being part of the job. However, no matter how truckers battle fatigue, driving while tired is very dangerous for not just the trucker, but other motorists on the road as well.
Fatigued driving is the main cause of trucking crashes
Trucking crashes are some of the most severe crashes that happen on the roadways. For this reason, there are federal regulations intended to promote public safety. But according to a survey conducted by the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, fatigued truck drivers or overworked drivers are the main reason for crashes.
When any motorist falls asleep or drives while fatigued, it can lead to deadly accidents. But because truckers are on the road longer than the average driver, they are more inclined to suffer from driver fatigue. This condition may be exacerbated when there are unrealistic expectations and schedules from trucking companies. These working conditions can encourage drivers to speed and/or drive when they’re too tired to meet deadlines.
It’s important to note that your body is unable to fight the need to sleep. Over time, chemicals build up in your brain until you reach the point that you will fall asleep. For this reason, you should never drive under the following conditions:
- Driving when you normally sleep
- Are lacking quality sleep
- Suffer from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea
Most fatigue-related crashes happen during normal sleep hours. Typically, the more severe a crash is, the more likely it is that at least one of the drivers was drowsy driving. Further, in rural areas, fatigue may account for at least one-third of single-vehicle crashes in rural areas.
How does fatigue affect decision-making?
Drowsy driving is the primary cause of more than 20% of car accident fatalities. Fatigued driving has a huge impact on driving. When a person gets drowsy, they may experience the same conditions as a person with a high blood alcohol content. For example, research shows that being awake for 17 hours has the same effect on your driving ability as a BAC with .05. Further going without sleep for 24 hours has the same effect as a .1 BAC.
Truck drivers experiencing fatigue will experience:
- Slower reaction times
- Poor concentration
- More errors in measuring distance or speed
- Poor judgment
- Dozing off — nodding off for even just a few seconds can result in deadly crashes.
Notably, fatigued driving is just as much a danger when driving short distances as it is driving long distances. In the case of truck drivers, however, the fatigue typically comes from long hours behind the wheel, lack of sleep, or poor quality sleep on long trips.
What is the trucking industry’s hours-of-service?
The federal government places regulations on drivers depending on if they’re carrying property or drivers. Each of those drivers is under specific rules. State laws must comply with federal regulations. Federal regulations include the following:
- Each duty period must begin after at least 10 hours of off-duty.
- Drivers work no more than 60 hours on-duty over seven consecutive days; or 70 hours over eight days.
- A driver’s workweek is reset after a marked 34 consecutive hours of off duty.
- Drivers are required to take a mandatory 30-minute break by their eighth hour of duty.
- A 14-hour work period may not be extended with off-duty time for breaks, meals, fuel stops or other stops.
In addition, there are several exceptions that allow truck drivers to drive for more time outside of the federal regulations.
The limitations of the Hours-of-Service rules
Hours-of-service limits what truck drivers can do while they’re on the clock. For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulated the number of hours a truck driver may drive per day. In addition, it limits the number of hours a truck driver may work per week.
However, there isn’t much that FMCSA regulations can address when drivers are off the clock. In other words, the regulations cannot force a driver to sleep after completing a shift.
How can truckers improve driver fatigue?
Battling fatigue as a truck driver is not as easy as battling boredom or simply being tired. Truck driving can also lead to overwhelming physical and mental exhaustion. For many truckers, that’s simply life on the road.
Fatigued truck drivers can battle drowsy driving through the following tips:
Choose better foods
Fast food or truck stop food may be the most convenient option, but it can also contribute to driver fatigue. What you put into your body matters. Junk food doesn’t give your body the nutrients it needs to properly function. For example, a fatty burger and a candy bar may “fill” you up, but the candy bar simply gives you a quickly fading sugar rush and your body will expend lots of energy digesting the burger. Opting for a high protein, a low-fat meal will help replenish your body’s energy with proper nutrients.
This sounds crazy, right? After all, we think of caffeine as a way to keep us awake. But, coffee has major effects on the body that contribute to several health issues including fatigue. Caffeine works by blocking certain receptors in the brain. Eventually, the brain will make more of these receptors causing you to need more caffeine to feel the effects.
It’s a no brainer that you should never drink alcohol when operating a motor vehicle. But you may not fully understand how alcohol can affect fatigue. Alcohol affects the medulla which is the area of the brain that handles automatic functions like breathing, consciousness and body temperature. Once alcohol hits the medulla, it may cause sleepiness.
Drink plenty of water
Water keeps the body hydrated. This doesn’t just mean that your thirst is quenched. Drinking water helps combat fatigue by regulating body temperature and lubricating and cushioning joints and soft tissues.
Evaluate your sleep schedule and sleeping conditions
Finally, examining how you sleep will more than likely make the biggest difference in fighting fatigue. A good night’s rest really does go a long way. It may be difficult to get the full six to eight hours of sleep. However, finding a sleep schedule that works for you in optimal sleep conditions can help make a difference in your daily activities.
Take a nap
Further, truckers should be unafraid to stop and take a quick nap. Naps may seem like something we should be fighting with our toddlers over, however, naps carry significant benefits for adults including productivity at work. Naps actually do the following:
- Restore alertness
- Enhance performance
- Reduce mistakes
- Reduce accidents
The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
Fatigue is just one element that can lead to an 18-wheeler accident. Other factors can include:
- Drug/ Alcohol Abuse
- Poor vehicle maintenance
- Equipment failure
- Driver inexperience
If you or a loved one suffered injuries in a commercial vehicle crash contact The Carlson Law Firm. We can help you hold negligent parties accountable if you were hit by a company vehicle. A commercial vehicle accident from The Carlson Law Firm can help you recover physically, emotionally and financially.
Call us today to schedule a free consultation with a compassionate attorney. We care. We can help.